February 27, 2013

Editorial: House should pass or improve Senate’s Department of Administration bill

DON’T BE deceived by the rapid, low-key way the Senate passed the bill last week to abolish the constitutionally offensive Budget and Control Board and turn most of its powers over to the governor.

DON’T BE deceived by the rapid, low-key way the Senate passed the bill last week to abolish the constitutionally offensive Budget and Control Board and turn most of its powers over to the governor.

Don’t be deceived, either, by people who claim that the legislation is restructuring in name only because it allows a rechristened version of the board to retain a few of its current duties and about a seventh of its current budget.

The fact is that, with all of its shortcomings, this bill goes much farther than any of the bills the House initiated for years to create a new Department of Administration controlled by the governor. It goes much farther than any of the proposals then-Gov. Mark Sanford urged the Legislature to pass. Much farther than anything Gov. Nikki Haley had dared dream of until a year and a half ago.

S.22 gives South Carolina’s governor the tools to control central administrative functions, from property and fleet management to IT and human resources, all of which are currently controlled the by the five-member Budget and Control Board, composed of the governor, treasurer, comptroller general and two legislators.

At least as important, it gives the Legislature the tools, and mandate, to act like a legislature: It transforms lawmakers’ primary job from writing laws to providing oversight of the way executive agencies administer those laws, and making changes based on this new knowledge. It also eliminates the budgetary bypass mechanisms that allowed the board, rather than the Legislature, to handle midyear budget shortfalls and allow agencies to run a deficit.

Thus it gives greater power to both the governor and the Legislature — and makes it more difficult for both to shift blame to others or shirk their responsibilities.

Where critics are correct is to say that the bill doesn’t go as far as it should, or do everything in the best possible way.

It leaves the shrunken Budget and Control Board (now dubbed the State Fiscal Accountability Authority) in charge of procurement. That’s a ridiculous carve-out that has nothing to do with the way government should operate, and everything to do with mollifying powerful legislators who refuse to give up their inappropriate executive duties.

It also creates three agencies where one currently exists. That’s much better than last year’s Senate effort, which gave us seven agencies — two of which since have been created by separate laws. But it still will be at least one too many as long as one of them is a stand-alone agency for a museum to the Confederacy (not to be confused with the State Museum, its own stand-alone agency). And it creates an independent agency within an agency, the Division of Information Security, which would be completely insulated from any political accountability. Which makes no sense at all.

Even with those shortcomings, the House could adopt the bill unchanged, and we would have the most muscular government restructuring our state has seen in more than two decades, possibly even rivaling the 1991 restructuring in importance.

Or the House could improve it — primarily but not exclusively by letting the executive branch of government oversee the executive function of procurement.

Whatever it decides to do, though, the House needs to go ahead and do it, rather than letting this bill get moldy, as it did last year, delaying consideration of a final version of the bill so long that it handed opponents the weapon they used to kill it.

Frankly, we don’t understand why the House doesn’t already have its own version of this legislation out of committee and ready to debate. It is, after all, one of the top things House Republican leaders promised to deliver this year.

And we can think of absolutely no good reason the House can’t get the Senate bill into subcommittee this week — and first up for floor debate once it finishes work on the budget on March 14.

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